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'Dancing With the Stars' finale recap: Rashad Jennings wins it all

For The Baltimore Sun

The “Dancing With the Stars” finale starts with a look back at the "journey" of David Ross and Lindsay Arnold throughout the competition. He's a nice guy who got better at dancing, but still isn't the best dancer.

Rashad Jennings and Emma Slater’s video package focuses a lot on his contemporary routine, which was pretty great in retrospect. In her interview with Erin Andrews, Emma cops to being an easy crier.

Several of the female pros and troupe members, along with Heather Morris, dance barefoot on a stage that has a rain curtain on all four sides. Is this to prove to us that we voted Heather off too early or that she really was a ringer all along?

Back from commercial, Hailee Steinfeld "sings" and shows off her body. Then Normani Kordei and Val Chmerkovskiy’s video package reminds us that she may be the best technical dancer left in the competition.

The guys from the troupe and the pros are back to do yet another riff on "Magic Mike." I mean, I'm not complaining about being pandered to, but I kind of am. They let Maks make a big entrance mid-routine and then give him front and center placement for the rest of it.

We get a quick clip package with past winners, including Alfonso Ribeiro, Emmitt Smith, Donald Driver, Bindi Irwin, and Donny Osmond.

Scoreboard Recap

Rashad & Emma: 40 + 40 = 80

Normani & Val: 38 + 40 = 78

David & Lindsay: 33 + 40= 73

Now it's time for this season's contestants to come back and dance in a big routine. Poor ol' Mr. T is basically just shuffling side to side in the bleachers. And they give Chris Kattan his “Roxbury” moment. The “Real Housewives” woman's (Erika Jayne) "solo" is literally her sitting on a pedestal and blowing a kiss.

After Bonner Bolton and Sharna Burgess do their encore dance, Erin makes some comment about how every week could be country week on "Dancing with the Stars," and I moan, "Please, no."

According to a montage, Bachelor Nick Viall had a huge "man crush" on Maks and it blossomed into a romance. They both play into it in interviews and it's cute and funny without crossing into homophobic humor.

For Nick and Peta Murgatroyd’s encore dance, the audience in the bleachers all have roses. Erin asks him after the dance, while they're standing on a stage strewn with roses, if he's tired of all the rose jokes. Nick admits he is. Erin asks if he's allowed to say that and he says, "I don't even care."

Of all the dances for David to do as an encore, it's the stripper themed one from Vegas Night? Hmph.

Yay for blooper reels — especially when Charo tells us she's a virgin...in the ear.

I'm super excited that Charo is back not for an encore dance but to perform a flamenco song on guitar. She may seem like a fluffy airhead, but she can PLAY. And that she does it sitting on a stool with a several-feet-long train on her dress is just a bonus.

Rashad and Emma do their first week dance as their encore, which means two nights in a row of Bruno Mars songs for them. I'm cool with that. This also means the return of Rashad's gold sequin dance shoes, of which I'm also a fan.

Heather and Maks are back to dance while TLC perform "Waterfalls." Is it really TLC, though, if Left Eye isn't there? I can't be sure, but I think they just splice in a recording of her rapping. IF there was someone there doing it, they didn't show her on camera.

Hailee Steinfeld is back to sing, and show off her legs, some more. Then One Republic performs. So much fluff before we get to actual competitive dancing.

Tom Bergeron introduces Normani and Val for their encore dance and says they're performing with "some help." That turns out to mean Len Goodman in a safety vest to match the construction theme dancing in the background. Although, since he's in his ’70s, the dance is more about swaying side to side and arm movements. Oh, wait, Bruno Tonioli was back there too, but he blended in better with the other background dancers because he ripped off his shirt and was doing more actual dancing than Len.

There's a PSA-style video with Mr. T, and the best thing about it is the disco ball hanging from his chains. The second best thing are the cameos from Nancy Kerrigan, Chris Kattan, and Charo.

And now it's time for the talk-about-the-finalists package: Rashad has charisma and impeccable timing; David isn't a great dancer but he's likable; and Normani is a terrific dancer.

Fusion Round

David Ross & Lindsay Arnold

Foxtrot/Salsa

Len says it was a "proper fusion dance." Julianne says America loves David, and that counts for a lot. I kind of hate this narrative, in that it makes it seem like America doesn't like Normani or Rashad. Carrie Ann Inaba says she loves the audience because they vote the way she can't. So much effort into making David feel better.

Scores: Carrie Ann: 9; Len: 9; Julianne: 9; Bruno: 9

Total for both nights: 109

Normani Kordei & Val Chmerkovskiy

Argentine tango/foxtrot

Julianne Hough says the fusion was seamless and the performance was flawless. I'm distracted from whatever Bruno is saying because the middle button on his shirt is unbuttoned and it's gaping all to heck. Carrie Ann says Normani was born to win this. Len says Normani dances with a clean and precise movement and yet also has flair. He adds that she's consistently been a great dancer throughout the season. Normani grabs Tom's mic to say a long-winded thank you and I'm annoyed at her all over again for it. Someone must have tipped Bruno off, because his button is fixed by the time he holds up his scoring paddle.

Scores: Carrie Ann: 10; Len: 9; Julianne: 10; Bruno: 10

Total for both nights: 117

Rashad Jennings & Emma Slater

Cha cha/tango

Rashad is wearing a jacket open with no shirt on underneath because he and Emma are no dummies. Bruno says watching Rashad was like watching a rising star that went supernova at just the right time. Carrie Ann says Rashad is a pro partner's dream because of the effort he gives. She says he may not have been born to win this thing, but he's definitely earned it. Len would've liked the hold to be tighter and for there to have been more heel leads.

Scores: Carrie Ann: 10; Len: 9; Julianne: 10; Bruno: 10

Total for both nights: 119

Erin asks the crowd outside who they think will win. Sounds to me like they say Rashad, but she and Tom both claim to not be able to discern what they said.

Drawing out the suspense even longer before the winner announcement is another performance from One Republic. At least they show us clips of the finalists dancing while the song plays.

Time to announce third place, which goes to … Normani and Val. What?!!? That's some grade-A BS right there. This better not mean David's sneaking into the winner's spot. The judges are visibly shocked at this outcome. Tom says he's stunned.

Back up on the stage, Emma has turned her face into Rashad's chest and may be crying. Is it because she thinks Normani's elimination means they might win or because she thinks it means they'll lose? I feel ya, Emma. Never count out America's need to make white men who aren't as good as their competitor feel better about themselves.

To my great relief, Rashad and Emma are announced as champions. This happens inside the ballroom, and then they all go over to a mirror-square plated golf cart, which Erin drives outside so the crowd there can see the winners too. I want that golf cart, minus the word "Finale" on the front, for my very own.

Well, that was a topsy-turvy season with shocking results. I can live with Rashad and Emma as winners, but, man, I hope next season goes more smoothly.

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